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Friday, January 04, 2013

Irish are lucky, but also inspiring

It was the morning after the game. I had not slept much; excitement and memories had kept me up most of the night.

The night was Nov. 24. Notre Dame had played its most important game in 25 years. The Irish beat longtime rival and home team Southern Cal 22-13 to earn a perfect 12-0 season, remain No. 1 in the polls and earn a berth in the BCS Championship game. Notre Dame will take on SEC power Alabama on Monday night in Miami for the national title.

The last time the Irish achieved this milestone I was 23 years old. The year before, I had moved to Roanoke to start my broadcasting career.

Watching sports always has inspired me. Anytime I faced what I thought was adversity in my young life (my definition of adversity has changed over the years), I would recall the great comebacks Joe Montana led at Notre Dame or what I had read about Notre Dame greats such as Gus Dorais and Knute Rockne. I remembered when the Irish basketball team ended UCLA's 88-game winning streak in 1974.

These feats helped propel me through Advanced Placement classes in high school and the three jobs I worked while attending Virginia Tech.

After the game on Nov. 24, I drifted off to sleep during postgame coverage to awaken a short while later to the feeling of what it was like to be 22 years old again.

In 1987, I graduated from Virginia Tech and went into a non-paying internship at The Sports Machine, which was produced at WRC-TV in Washington, D.C. I worked throughout the summer and into the fall until I found my first paying job in television.

One of my duties at WRC was to watch Notre Dame football games, write down every play and choose the best ones for highlights. I watched as Tim Brown secured the Heisman Trophy by returning two punts for touchdowns in two minutes in Notre Dame's home opener against Michigan State.

As I lay awake in the wee hours of Nov. 25, I remembered the sense of pride I had as "my" highlights of Brown's spectacular runs aired on the nationally syndicated Sports Machine. My next job was at WDBJ in Roanoke as a part-time studio camera operator for $4.25 an hour.

I thought it was providence that I had ended up at Channel7, whose parent company is based in South Bend, Ind. For years I had subscribed to the South Bend Tribune to read what the hometown paper was saying about my Fighting Irish. When I left WDBJ in 2001, I was a sports reporter and anchor of News 7 Saturday-Sunday Morning, but back in 1987, my duties included setting up the studio, operating the cameras during the newscasts and making weather graphics.

In between my duties, I would head into what we called the "photographers' lounge," which was a narrow room with a series of edit bays. At the end were three TVs and a large window overlooking Towers Mall. I would always switch one of the TV sets to the game if Notre Dame was playing. Everyone at the TV station thought I was a quiet person until they heard me rooting for the Irish on game day.

When the Irish started the 1988 season, I decided I would wear a Notre Dame shirt every day during the season. At that time, I had more than 40 shirts. I wore one a day throughout the season and for one week after the team won the national championship by beating West Virginia in the Fiesta Bowl.

Today, it's not possible for me to wear an Irish shirt every single day. I need to dress more professionally for work, and my number of shirts has dwindled.

But the passion is still there. This season, I have missed watching only one game. Postgame interviews with Irish linebacker and Heisman runner-up Manti Te'o gave me words to live by for the New Year. His grandmother and girlfriend both died in the same week during the season. Still, he inspired his team and the entire school.

When asked in a postgame interview if he thought his team could achieve a national title, he said in part, "I go by faith." In another interview, he was asked about how he thought he and his teammates would respond to certain USC plays, and he responded by saying he had gotten into the habit of visualizing himself making great plays.

So I have put a sign over my computer: "Go by faith and visualize great plays."